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3 entrepreneurs setting the bridal bar high

The devil is in the details, and anyone who’s ever been married knows the pressure to make every detail perfect. With so many elements to consider, couples can soon get overwhelmed; cue the behind-the-scenes experts who know exactly what it takes to create a perfect day – and a lasting impression.

Recently, Buffalo Magazine sat down with three local wedding experts; each provided a candid look inside their world.

Amy Phillips, Private Knives Catering

Amy Phillips, owner of Private Knives Catering, got the culinary bug later in life. A former road warrior for a local computer company, she decided to make a change. Phillips attended ECC’s Culinary School full-time while working two, and sometimes three, jobs in the restaurant industry. After school, Phillips started small, as a caterer and a private chef, but her ambition and notoriety quickly grew. In addition to hosting a large number of private events, and running a summer-time carryout café at Private Knives’ kitchen in Lancaster, Phillips catered nine weddings last year and already has 11 slated for 2016.

How long have you been catering weddings?

Weddings happened by accident for us. I had been catering small events for private and corporate clients out of a small storefront in Lancaster. One day I received a call from a wedding planner who was seeking a chef that would prepare a meal for 145 guests utilizing local produce and products. That was the summer of 2014. We did three weddings that year, wedding business doubled in 2015, and now we are almost fully booked for the 2016 season.

What do you like most about your job?

Every day is different. I love the creativity, the hands-on. We are not a cookie cutter provider. From the menu to the décor to the floral to whatever crazy concocted idea our clients can come up with, we are totally outside of the box. We embrace it and we love it.

What is your most memorable wedding moment?

Last year, we were doing a wedding at the Knox Estate and it was a September day and it was so hot. We had prepared this gorgeous fall menu filled with comfort food. The guys were in tuxes and it was just so bloody hot! I was in the kitchen when the mother of the groom asked to see me at her table – which never happens. I didn’t know what to expect so naturally I dreaded the worst. As I approached her table she stood up, hugged and thanked me for making this day so special for her and
her guests.

What’s one of the most off-the-wall requests you’ve gotten?

Our first wedding this season is going to be at the Adam Mickiewicz Library in the Broadway/Fillmore area, and is going to be half Ethiopian and half Slavic, with curated stations. After doing some research, I found that Ethiopian and Slavic cuisine have a lot of foods in common — it’s the way they are seasoned that makes them so different. So I am excited to experiment with both cuisines to create something totally unique.

What is the most frustrating bridal trait or tic?

Since we customize everything, and it is such a special process that we go through, the brides are very anxious. Some of the brides know what they want before they even get engaged, so the minute they get engaged they are ready to go – they want an instant turnaround. But working with us is a process. The hardest part is to try and put together an entire solution for them without missing a beat.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened while catering a wedding?

At our first wedding, the bride had procured someone else to make her cake – a girl she had found on Facebook. The day of the wedding, the cake maker showed up with an unfinished cake, a whisk, a couple pounds of butter, a bag of sugar and a bowl – one hour before the ceremony. We cleared a spot for her to finish the cake, and kept working on the food. All of a sudden I was like, ‘where is the cake?’ I had to get it out on the table. Come to find out she had left, had disappeared without finishing the cake. We called every bakery in the area and ended up getting ahold of the baker from (the former) Zillycakes. It was her day off, but she came in. She fixed the cake; we got it on the table during the dinner service, and served it!

Who is/was your most famous client?

I’ve never had anyone very famous, but I did have another caterer, Laurie Clark, owner of the Avanti Mansion, hire me to cater her party, which was amazing and scary at the same time, because all eyes are on every detail – it’s what she does for a living. The venue was Jim Kelly’s old house… if those walls could talk! But it worked out to be a great party, she was very happy with it.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to couples getting married?

Elope! [laughs] No, there’s a lot of input that couples are going to get from everyone… from friends to family to professionals, everyone’s got an opinion. Compromise. You’re going to have to do it throughout your whole marriage; you might as well start during the planning of your wedding. Try not to get so emotionally charged about every little detail. Keep it about the love.

Trish Mullaney, Dessert Deli

Trish Mullaney worked in the food industry for many years prior to owning Dessert Deli, a gourmet bakery in Amherst. Her career began at Wegmans, where she spent 15 years working in positions ranging from specialty foods to store operations. In 1997, Mullaney purchased 50 percent of Dessert Deli, and in 2000, she purchased the remaining half. Today, Dessert Deli employs between 33 and 40 workers – up from seven in 1997 – and works diligently to bring customer’s creative ideas to life.

What do you like most about your job?

Seeing the smile on customers’ faces when they see their cake, and being part of a life-changing event in our customer’s lives.

What’s one of the most off-the-wall requests you’ve gotten?

We had a couple getting married on Halloween who wanted us to break the heads off their cake topper and have blood dripping, with the bride holding the groom’s head and the groom holding the bride’s head. Both mom and I were against this. They finally agreed, but, when I delivered the cake with the flower topper on it, I glanced back at the cake as I was leaving and saw the bride’s sister replacing the flowers with exactly what they originally wanted. Not sure how Mom and
Grandma reacted!

What is the most frustrating bridal trait or tic?

Either a narcissistic attitude or the bride who doesn’t know what she wants, or doesn’t care!

What’s the worst thing that’s happened while making cakes/desserts for a wedding?

Getting the call that the wedding was cancelled. We have had a few very sad cancellations.

Who is/was your most famous client?

We have done many cakes for sports stars and television celebrities including Scott Levin (wedding), Maryalice Demler (birthday), Mary Wilson (Ralph Wilson’s Hall of Fame cake in Canton, 90th birthday cake, and more), and Brittni Smallwood (wedding), not to mention many famous families in the WNY area.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to couples getting married?

Make a budget and see where your dream wedding fits into it. Be prepared to make changes to accommodate unforeseen issues. Enjoy every moment of the planning and all the festivities. Don’t stress over things that only really matter to you. You would be surprised to hear what ensures your guests having a good time – it all starts with a happy couple.

Carla Measer-Costamagna, Costamagna Design

Carla Measer-Costamagna’s design career began at an event production company in New York City. After two years in the industry, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked as a designer for Robert Fountain International. There, Costamagna planned social events, weddings and private events in San Francisco, Napa Valley, Los Angeles, the Bahamas and beyond. Wanting more creative control, Costamagna branched out on her own in 2009 with Costamagna Design. Shortly after, she moved from San Francisco to Buffalo, her husband’s hometown. Costamagna started out with just two weddings her first year in Buffalo, but her business and reputation grew rapidly. She planned a total of 20 weddings in 2015.

How long have you been planning weddings?

I’ve been in the event industry for 13 years, and weddings themselves, over 10 years.

What do you like most about your job?

I have two favorite parts. The first is that I get to work with people who are in love. I know it sounds corny, but it’s totally true in my experience. I’m very fortunate to witness the love. The second is that I don’t have to do the same thing over and over again. Every wedding is different and every couple is different, so I get to start from scratch every time.

What is the most frustrating bridal trait or tic?

A lot of the brides have been planning, dreaming about their wedding since they were little girls. They have enormous Pinterest boards and they have all these ideas based off of these styled shoots, or $100,000+ weddings, that are just perfect. So they come to me with what they want, and they have no idea how to achieve it, so they’re stressed.

What is your most memorable wedding moment?

There are a few that have really stuck with me. The most recent was at Vanessa Williams’ wedding. She serenaded her husband on stage during her reception. She sang a song from “The Love Boat” that she had re-written, so that the lyrics would relate to him. It was incredible to see her on stage. Also, two years ago I did a wedding in a barn in East Aurora, and the mother of the bride gave a speech during the ceremony that was so beautiful  I was crying. You don’t really see mothers giving speeches at weddings, but it was a beautiful letter from a mother to her daughter.

Have you ever been completely surprised by something that’s happened at a wedding you’ve planned?

As the planner I know everything that’s going to happen, but I don’t know how I’m going to feel, or how the guests will react. I knew Vanessa was going to serenade her husband, but it was a hush hush song – no one knew exactly what it was. So there’s always the element of surprise.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened during one of your wedding events?

I’ve never had anything truly bad happen at a wedding, it’s always been behind the scenes and either the bride and groom didn’t realize, or they did but we were able to solve it. I once had a bride who didn’t take my advice to hire from a list of make-up artists I had recommended. On the day of the wedding, the artist she hired wouldn’t answer her phone and she was MIA, so we had to find a make-up artist that day.

Who is/was your most famous client?

Vanessa Williams is the most famous client that I’ve had working on my own. Prior to starting Costamagna Design, when I worked at Robert Fountain, I planned events for John Lasseter, the CEO of Pixar. We also did a destination wedding in the Bahamas for the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, and his wife Anne Wojcicki.

What makes planning a wedding special?

What makes it special is also what makes it more difficult. It’s a milestone in somebody’s life. There’s so much emotion involved. There are a lot of opinions and a lot of details and nuisances. The planning is just so much more involved.

What is one piece of advice you would give to couples getting married?

To relax! To know that the most important thing is that they are getting married, that they are marrying the person that they love, and that their loved ones are going to be there to witness it. Everything else is not important.

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